I apologize for the delay in getting back with you. I had stepped away from my computer. Also I had a little research I wanted to do to answer your question.
Here are several articles that outline the "community caretaking" function. They discuss the history, principles behind it and probably more importantly the government's attempt to expand that role.
This is law review article you access for free.Link
What you officer is most likely trying to claim is that he observed your vehicle from the street and saw someone behind the steering wheel (and any thing else he cares to add motor running brake lights on.) And based on this he thought there may be a person in need of medical attention so he as "community caretaker" investigated further. He entered the garage and discovered a driver who was impaired by alcohol.
Whether the officer is able to enter your garage and check a vehicle would be a case in which the court would have to decide how far to expand the principle. As you can see if you review the article courts are all over the place on how they decide cases involving this principle.
Wisconsin basically uses a 3-part test which asks (1) whether a search or seizure occurred, (2) whether the police conduct was "bona fide community caretaker activity," and (3) whether the public need for the intrusion outweighed the interests of the person subject to the search or seizure. State v. Anderson
, 417 N.W.2d 411, 414 (Wis. Ct. App. 1987))); see also State v. Ziedonis
, 707 N.W.2d 565, 570 (Wis. Ct. App. 2005)
You can read State v. Ziedonis
, 707 N.W.2d 565, 570 (Wis. Ct. App. 2005) here. http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=2017667634444759760&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr
The court in Ziedonis
said that "In evaluating the third factor, the following four considerations should be taken into account: "(1) the degree of public interest and exigency of the situation; (2) the attendant circumstances surrounding the seizure, including time, location, the degree of overt authority and force displayed; (3) whether an automobile is involved; and (4) the availability, feasibility and effectiveness of alternatives to the type of intrusion actually accomplished."
There is no brightline rule for resolving the issue in your case. In fact you could present the same facts to different judges and possible get two conflicting decisions from them.
One would hope that a person would be free of government intrusion into their garage when they are sitting in their vehicle parked in the garage. The next step down the slippery slope is are we going to let police enter homes when they see someone sitting in a chair through a window. If the facts are as simple as you presented them I think you definitely have an issue to present to the court.
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